Egyptian journalists are criticizing the country's new anti-terrorism legislation. The measure makes it illegal to publish news reports that conflict with the government's version of events in cases involving terrorism.
Local reporters say the law will make it more difficult for them to do their jobs. They say the government is only interested in media that has "one opinion and one narrative."
Egypt's cabinet approved the proposed anti-terrorism law last week. However, the law is still waiting for the approval of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
The measure could be used against anyone who reports "false news or data about any terrorist operations that contradicts the official statements released by the relevant authorities." Courts would be required to sentence violators to at least two years in prison.
The cabinet approval comes just days after the Egyptian president promised strong methods for fighting terrorism. He spoke after the murder of the country's top public prosecutor. The official died in a car bombing last month in Cairo.
Last week, local and foreign media reported on an organized attack by Islamic State militants in North Sinai. The government's count of soldiers killed in the attacks was far different from what local and foreign media reported. Rights activists say the two versions of events are likely to have influenced the government to act.
The Egyptian Journalist's Syndicate represents journalists and other media workers in the country. The syndicate said the new law does more than just fight terrorism. It claimed the measure also attempts to control "freedom of the press."
The group added that the law removes the right of journalists to gather information "from different sources and limits it to one side." In its words, "this is a clear setback for freedom of thought and press."
The anti-terrorism draft law lists more than 25 crimes. Twelve of them are punishable by death.
Egypt's justice minister, Ahmed el-Zind, told the French news service that the government had no other choice. "The government has the duty to defend citizens from wrong information," he said. "I hope no one [sees] this as a restriction on media freedoms. It's just about numbers."
In the recent battles between the military and Islamic extremists, the military reported that that no more than 17 soldiers had died. Foreign and local media reported that between 50 and 70 soldiers were killed.
The new law is the latest fight between Egypt's media and its government and civil society. The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 18 journalists are currently in jail in Egypt for different reasons. Three Al-Jazeera journalists have been accused of terrorism. They were given a conditional release from jail, but told to return for trial at a later date. In June, the Cairo-based reporter for a Spanish newspaper El Pais left Egypt after Spain's embassy warned he might be arrested.
"The threat of [being sent to prison] in Egypt is part of an atmosphere in which [the government] pressure[s] media outlets to censor critical voices," the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Two years ago street protests led the military to oust the elected President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist. Since then, the government has announced laws it says are necessary because of threats from Islamic militants. The government has arrested thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The government accuses the group of helping terrorists and being involved in terrorism.
Egyptian officials did not hide their anger at the reporting of the Sinai battles. The officials said at least 100 militants died in the fighting. The Ministry of Defense accused Al-Jazeera and some competing television stations of aiding "anti-military propaganda."
Local journalists say the anti-terror legislation would violate the country's constitution. Gamal Adbel Rehim is the under-secretary of the Journalists' Syndicate. "The law will [change] journalists into machines automatically publishing official statements without thinking," he warned.
Rights groups have criticized other parts of the proposed law. They say it requires jails terms for supporting "terrorist crimes" or writing or broadcasting anything "disrupting the course of justice." The law would ban recording or broadcasting any part of a trial without court approval.
Last weekend, former general el-Sissi wore his combat uniform for the first time in over a year. He said that the army stopped the Islamic State from creating an extremist state (in Sinai Peninsula.)
"No one can [force] on the Egyptians something they don't want," he said. "To reach the Egyptians they have to pass through the army, the sons of Egypt."
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry blames all the recent violence on the Muslim Brotherhood. The ministry claims the group works with the Islamic State.
I'm Pete Musto.
And I'm Ashley Thompson.
Jamie Dettmer reported on this story from Istanbul. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
narrative – n. a story that is told or written
contradict – v. to deny or disagree with what is being said
setback – n. a problem that makes progress less likely
civil society – n. a collection of non-governmental organizations that support the interests and opinions of a country's citizens
censor – v. to examine a work for official purposes and remove things that are considered unacceptable
under-secretary – n. an official who is second in command in an organization
combat – adj. relating to active fighting, especially in a war
checkpoint – n. a place where people and cars are searched before being allowed to continue
Now it's your turn. How does your government treat freedom of speech in your country? Is the media in your country completely free? Let us know in the comments section.